Tens of thousands of people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on Saturday to rally for progressive causes. More than 400 groups, including labor unions, as well as civil rights, gay rights, and environmental groups, endorsed the "One Nation Working Together" rally. Organizers said the gathering drew a crowd of 175,000 people. The focus of the day was jobs, justice and education for all. The rally’s sponsors said they also hoped to demonstrate that they, not the tea party, represented the nation’s majority. Speakers included Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund; deaf student organizer Colin Whited; and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: Marian Wright Edelman also spoke, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund. She served as counsel to Martin Luther King in 1968 and helped organize the Poor People’s Campaign.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Everything our nation and all of us need to know about life can be learned from Noah’s Ark, according to an anonymous writer. Lesson one, don’t miss the boat. The United States is going to miss the boat to lead and compete in our globalizing world, because we are not preparing a majority of our children for the future. The greatest threat to America’s national security comes from no enemy without, but from our failure to invest in and educate all of our children. Yet every eleven seconds of the school day, a child drops out. A majority of children of all racial and income groups and over 80 percent of black and Hispanic children cannot read or compute at grade level in fourth, eighth or twelfth grade, if they have not already dropped out. Any nation that is failing to prepare all of its children for productive work and life is jeopardizing everything and needs to correct course right now. And all of us — all of us, parents, educators, community and religious and political leaders — need to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. God did not make two classes of children. Every single one deserves a quality education.
Noah’s lesson two, we are all in the same boat, which is the central message of today’s positive and inclusive rally. Many Americans may not like or think they have any self-interest in assuring a fair playing field for other people’s children, especially poor and minority children. But black, Hispanic and other minority children will be a majority of our child population in 2023. Isn’t it better to ensure that they are there to get — make sure that our Social Security and Medicare systems and productive workforce are in place, rather than us supporting them because we’ve neglected them in prisons? Our country, our states are spending on average three times more per prisoner that per public school pupil. I can’t think of a dumber investment policy, and we’ve got to change it.
Lesson three, plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark. Tomorrow is today, and children have only one childhood. They need to be healthy now. They need quality, early childhood experiences now. They need first-rate schools with first-rate teachers, and they need to know that there is a good-paying job after college in their future. We must plan ahead and resist this quick-fix, quarterly profit-driven culture. It’s gotten us into trouble.
Lesson four, don’t listen to the critics and naysayers. Just get on with what the job is that needs to be done to educate our children. And if you don’t want to be criticized, don’t do anything, don’t be anything, and don’t say anything. Stand up and fight for our children, all of them.
Lesson five, for safety’s sake, travel in pairs. Better still, travel with your brothers and sisters and community leaders gathered here. We have got to turn back those who hijack Dr. King’s words but subvert his call to end poverty and excessive militarism and excessive individualism that’s killing our children. We must, particularly right now, make sure that we end those massive tax giveaways to the richest two percent, when fifteen-and-a-half million children are languishing in poverty.
Lesson six — almost done — remember that the Ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic was built by professionals. Use your citizen power, your vote, to wrest our ship of state from that small group of experts and powerful and greedy corporate pirates who recklessly jeopardized all of our lives for personal gain. Feel your own power. Use your own power. Don’t rely on experts.
And last lesson, build your future, build our children’s future and our nation’s future on high ground. Let’s leave our nation and world better than we found it, more just, more hopeful, more peaceful, more productive, more unified. This may be the first time when our children and grandchildren will be worse off than their parents and grandparents, unless we correct course with urgency, with the power reflected in your witness today, to get them to safe harbor.
Let me end with a brief prayer. God, we have pushed so many of our children into the tumultuous sea of life in small and leaky boats without survival gear and compass. Please forgive us and help our children to forgive us. And help us now to build that transforming movement, to give all of your children the anchors of faith and love, the rudder of hope, the sails of health and education, and the paddles of family and community, to keep them safe and strong when life’s sea gets worse. Thank you for your witness.
AMY GOODMAN: Marion Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, speaking at the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, DC. We’ll come back to Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, and get some criticism of the rally from Danny Schechter, the News Dissector. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re staying in Washington for the One Nation Working Together rally. Colin Whited also addressed the crowd, a student at Gallaudet University, the nation’s premier school for the deaf and hard of hearing. After he was introduced by the rally organizer Deepak Bhargava, Colin delivered his speech through an interpreter. Colin was using sign language.
COLIN WHITED: [interpreted] I Deepak mentioned, I am deaf. I come from a deaf family. I was raised in a very deaf community. And I go to Gallaudet University, which that school does not view deafness as a disability, but rather a culture. I’ve never considered myself a deaf person, and I’ve never considered myself — I consider myself deaf, but not disabled. And I will not rest until all disabled people can feel like I do, because they, too, are not disabled. With One Nation Working Together, leading the way, we, too, together, can accomplish that.
Commitment to education means making colleges affordable without having lots of debt, increased access to higher education, by having decreased affordability and depending on the resources of loans, and making sure that people have equal access to affordable resources and high-quality resources and public education throughout their life, from elementary school through college.
AMY GOODMAN: Colin Whited. Labor unions were also one of the key organizers of Saturday’s rally. Among the speakers, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in the United States. Trumka is a former coal miner who became the head of the AFL-CIO last year.
RICHARD TRUMKA: Hello, America. You know, you look like one nation, one beautiful nation. And I’m so glad you got to hear from the hard-working men and women who have come up here from all across this beautiful nation. There is nothing — and I mean nothing — that we can’t do when we stand together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. You see, there is no power greater than what you see all around here today in our nation’s capital. You know, if you watch too much TV, you might think that we’re a nation full of hate, that we’ve turned against the values that made our country great. But no, that’s not America. America is here today. America is freedom of religion. America is Dr. King and President Lincoln and their spirit living in you and me today. America is one nation, and we signify that nation. But never forget, behind the voices of fear and hatred are the forces of greed, the moneyed powers that put us in the economic mess that we’re in today. So we have a lot of work to do to repair the damage that greed did to our country.
Brothers and sisters, we come together today because America needs jobs — good jobs — jobs that will support families, all families; jobs that will give our young people paths of opportunity, not obstacles; jobs that will allow people to retire with dignity; jobs that provide the means to support small businesses, like the one owned by Diana Ortiz, who came all the way from Pueblo, Colorado, to tell us that we need an economy that works for Main Street, so that small businesses can innovate and move America forward.
We’re gathered here to say that we believe in America, and it’s time for America to believe in each and every one of us. You see, it’s going to take something big to get America going again. And if we’re going to build our dreams, turn them into reality, then we have to be bold. We have to rebuild our schools, our roads, our bridges. We have to compete and win in the world economy with investments in world-class energy, high-speed rail and green technology, so that we can fight climate change and create good jobs. And we have to ensure that working men and women have the freedom to make every last job a good job, by joining together in a union to bargain for a better life. You see, that’s the American Dream — the promise that if you work hard, you can have a good life, earn a living wage and a future for your children. And that’s what we can do as one nation.
Brothers and sisters, I want you to make a promise today. Promise that you won’t let anybody divide us or turn us against each other. And promise that you’ll make your voices heard for good jobs and justice and education today and on Election Day. Because we believe in America, in this one nation, this great nation, our best days are ahead, not behind us. And we’re ready to fight for it. So it’s time for you to stand together, fight together. And we will win together, and we won’t let anyone — I mean anyone — stand in our way.
God bless you.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, addressing the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, DC. Organizers estimated 175,000 people came out on the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial.